Is 2012 going to be a fun year at the movies for comic nerds or what? We got Spidey rebooting, Bats closing up a trilogy, and Cap assembling Earth’s Mightiest Heroes all in one summer. While there are some of these I am more excited about then others, I am still very excited to see how all of them turn out.
Unfortunately, there is still an entire season of pre-summer jitters standing between me and all that awesome. In the meantime, I have sought to ease my wait with a reboot to one of Marvel’s… let’s say indie heroes. Unfortunately again, said reboot happened to be called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and… well let’s just say the next couple paragraphs are about to get excruciating. How excruciating?
For those of you who have read my movie reviews in the past, you can pretty much assess that I am not the harshest film critic on the internet. Quite contrary, I was able to get through critiques of disasters like The Last Airbenderand Green Lantern quite optimistically. Getting unnecessarily cynical and bashing a film for all its faults is just not my style.
But today, I just can’t help it. Oh. Dear. Satan. This. Movie. Is. BAD.
And you know what? I knew this movie was going to be bad before I went to see it. The only reason I gave it the benefit of the doubt was because the trailers made it look like one of those stupid fun campy kind of bad movies. You know, like the first Ghost Rider movie, but with better effects and action scenes this time.
Nope it wasn’t even that. While 2007’s Ghost Rider was so bad it was good, in a way that almost passed for a guilty pleasure, 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is so bad, it’s bad. Allow me to explain.
The plot involves Nicolas Cage’s Johnny Blaze, A.K.A. Ghostie, who, while on a round-the-world trek to escape…himself I guess, receives a request by… whoever the hell was the name of Idris Elba’s character, to help escort this girl and her pre-teen son to holy ground, because said girl also made a deal with the devil where she had to… um… “mother” the devil’s child, and now that said child is about to come of age, the devil is tracking her down to take back his son and use his demon spawn as a vessel to unleash his armies onto the world and trigger the Apocalypse.
Okay now, this is a completely, unapologetically stupid yet perfectly serviceable plot for a Ghost Rider movie. At this point I am totally on board. All they have to do now is show me the Ghost Rider, show him doing plenty of badass Ghost Rider stuff, and you’re home free.
But no, it could not be that simple, could it? Of course not, because this movie seems to feel like it’s obligated to show us how this is NOT a direct sequel to the 2007 film, but a reboot (despite feeling obligated to keep the same lead actor for the title character when a majority of fans openly opposed it). It shows us it’s a reboot by having Blaze give us some comic book style exposition on his origin, which, beat for beat, is exactly like the original film but making just a few minor completely unnecessary changes in the details. If it’s so similar, why not just make it a sequel you ask? Well, because they don’t want have to make an excuse for why the devil has changed from Maphisto to Roarke, why his former generic-but-still-entertaining love interest Roxanne is never even mentioned, and, oh get this, they also want this Johnny to still be coping with daddy issues and for his motivation to take this job escorting this broad and her demon spawn brat rely on the notion that Idris Elba’s cyber monk character promises to lift his curse after doing so.
For the record, I for one have not jumped on the bashing Nicholas Cage bandwagon that seems to be taking precedence in nerd culture as of late. Personally, I like the guy. I think he’s a great performer, he has a very distinct brand of charm and silliness that’s all his own, and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve seen him in. (Go see Kickass. He was awesome in that.) The reason I had no objections to him playing Johnny Blaze again, despite how everyone says he’s way too old for the part, is because he’s been so open about what a huge fan he is of the character. He is so emotionally involved in this role that it actually shows through in his performance. One of the reasons I personally consider the first Ghost Rider a guilty pleasure of mine is because many of the little scenes of Cage just doing his own thing as Blaze made me chuckle. He looked like we was having a good time.
There’s also one scene in particular I really appreciated. Near the end of the movie, Maphisto offers Blaze a chance to lift his curse and let someone else carry that burden. Blaze responds by turning him down, stating that he will hold onto this curse so he may use it against the devil and be a spirit of justice. Awesome. He turned around a curse from Hell and made it a gift to help humanity. Wonderful. Too bad the rest of the movie didn’t live up to that moment, but I’ll take what I can get.
So, five years pass, we see a the character return, and I was actually looking forward to Cage taking on that new mindset of Blaze now fully in control and owning up to his powers as the Ghost Rider. You know, finally get the chance to just go all out and be the badass spirit of justice we all know he can be.
But no, the studio has to pull this “reboot” bull**** and make him all brooding and fearful of himself again, not to mention squeezing in elements of his daddy issues when he’s made to look out for this young boy in an oh so subtle fatherly manner. You know, there are plenty of super heroes (Spider-man, Batman, Iron Man, Hulk) where I do appreciate seeing them deal with family and relationship issues, as well as the inner complexities of the power and responsibility they possess, but this is Ghost Rider we’re talking about. I don’t give a flaming crap about his tragic past. I just want to see a biker with a flaming skull for a head commit God of War levels of violence and decapitation upon armies of hell spawn. There is absolutely no reason the plot of Spirit of Vengeance could not have been modified to accomplish this.
Don’t even get me started on the writing. Good God was it putrid. Like…okay, so I pretty much accepted the fact that the Ghost Rider himself would speak strictly in stock phrases after the first movie, but that doesn’t mean that every word from every other character has to be the most clichéd cookie cutter moronic schlock that even a twelve-year-old would groan at. At least I can say the first one made me chuckle now and then. This movie tried so hard to make me laugh at so many points, and it all felt flat as a brick. For instance, this movie tries to very hard to shove in a “Dick Chaney is the Devil” joke, and yes, that joke stopped being funny five years before the first Ghost Rider came out.
None of the actors stood out for me. Cage’s novelty can only go so far. The girl was dull, the kid was wooden, and our main villains- Roarke and Carrigan- do the impossible of making Mephistopheles and Blackheart from the first movie look Oscar worthy by comparison. Idris Elba is an awesome actor (I loved him as the gatekeeper Heimdal in Thor last year), but his role in this movie is so loosely handled that he just sort of disappears from the plot at random points where it’s no longer convenient for him.
And yet, every single one of these problems I have listed so far could have easily been forgiven if the action was at least good. After all, this movie was directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the directing duo responsible for big intense spectacles like Blitz and the Crank Series, which are movies that can basically be summed up as Action Movie Porn. Even the early trailers they showed made Spirit of Vengeance look like another of their no-bars-held thrill rides, so of course I was cautiously optimistic.
Now, you all can just load up the trailer again, and you will see the extent of what this movie has to offer. Yup, Spirit of Vengeance’s advertisement pulls the same crap as other bad movies of putting all its best action scenes forward and leaving nothing left to surprise the audience in the final cut. The first action scene basically entails the Ghost Rider showing up, all the bad guys staring at him flabbergasted, he takes his sweet little time looking around at each of the thugs, I guess trying to decide who to kill first. And then when he finally does pick out someone, it takes an entire two minutes of staring at him in order for his pennant stare to finally burn his sole. By this point, the lead thugs have had ample amount of time to pull out a bunch of shotguns and RPG’s from the back of their trunk, and they blast the Rider to high heaven, allowing them to get away and hospitalizing Johnny Blaze in the process. This only accomplishes two things. One, showing that the Ghost Rider is lame as heck, and Two, creating potholes that you can run a bulldozer through when in the second action scene, the same baddies now have missile launchers with explosives ten times as big as the first scene, and Ghost Rider brushes them off like he’s a freaking Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball Z. There was not effort or taste put into any of the fight choreography, the army from hell that was suppose to appear and bring the apocalypse never happens, and Roarke, the supposed devil of the movie, gets taken out in a single blow, doing nothing to prove false the discrepancy that Marvel Comics has the absolute lamest interpretation of the devil of any fictional universe ever.
If this movie had any redeeming qualities, I’d say that the Ghost Rider himself does look a lot better than in the first movie, a few of the biker scenes (already seen in the trailer) were pretty cool, and the comic book style exposition scenes Cage narrated were pretty well done. Besides those, the rest of the effects are pretty damn shotty. Half the time when Johnny Blaze transforms back and forth, it’s done off-screen, and one particular green screen affect of Idris Elba hanging in a tree looked so fake it was embarrassing.
Gens, all do yourself a favor, and do not bother with this movie. I kid you not, you are bound to have more fun watching Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in 3D. It’s that boring.